On Tuesday 18th August, Forward Thinking facilitated a meeting of Pathways into Politics with Ms. Thoraya Obaid. Pathways into Politics is a programme that aims to develop the ambition of young Muslims to engage with politics and their ability to do so. The programme seeks to develop the participants’ leadership and communication skills as well as their political literacy.  This meeting was part of a series of follow-up events that Forward Thinking has held after an initial leadership programme in February 2020.

Until her retirement in 2010, Thoraya Obaid worked as Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). She has over 35 years’ experience working on areas such as international cooperation and assistance, population and development, and human rights within the United Nations. Thoraya has focused in particular within her career on the relationship between gender, culture and human rights and has written a number of papers on the subject.

Thoraya has expressed a deep commitment to ‘intergenerational dialogue’ and actively encouraged an interactive discussion with the youth participants. She was able to comment on her work as part of the Women 20 (W20) in Saudi Arabia, as well as the United Nation’s current sustainable development goals. Thoraya emphasised that a key challenge for young people involved in politics today will be to address the growing trend of countries abandoning multilateral cooperation in favour of an isolationist approach.

The group were also able to reflect on the role of faith and culture within politics. Thoraya discussed the importance of introducing a ‘cultural lens’ at the United Nations Population Fund to ensure that cultural and regional sensitivities are accounted for within international development.

Despite common harmful stereotypes, Thoraya and the participants discussed that Islam is not in opposition to participation in politics, but in fact encourages it. Challenging and countering negative stereotypes is particularly true for Muslim women who pursue careers in politics. Greater understanding about the role that Islam can play in the promotion and development of human rights is therefore necessary to ensure that those from Islamic faith background can engage with politics as their ‘entire selves’ rather than leaving their faith at the door. Moving forward, Thoraya encouraged the youth participants to find their area of specific interest within politics and dedicate themselves to pursuing it.